My name is Christine. I have — or currently have — clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, but I wasn’t abused as a child, raped as a teenager, or raised in a war zone.
I did, however, spend 30 years with someone with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).
While my experience can’t compare to the stories of Syrian refugees or ISIS sex slaves, it was enough to shatter my self-image. According to Sandra L. Brown, counselor and author of Women Who Love Psychopaths,:
“Exposure to other people’s pathology … can and often does give other people stress disorders, including PTSD. Our psychological and emotional systems are simply not wired for long-term exposure to someone else’s abnormal psychology.”
In Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control, the authors describe people with OCPD as desperately in search of control—of themselves, others, and the world around them. Somewhere inside the OCPD brain, they believe that if they can control every aspect of their lives, they will be guaranteed protection from a dangerous, unpredictable world.
So for 30 years, there was a right way and a wrong way to do just about everything. And I was expected to know what that right way was. If I didn’t, there was something wrong with me, because of course all normal people knew what the right way was.
I was a classic people-pleaser who had never learned to say “it doesn’t matter which way the towels are folded,” so I kept stuffing the criticism deep down inside, gradually absorbing it into my internal monologue, walking around like a can filled with those prank snakes that suddenly explode one day.
In the meantime, I had also bought into some bad Christian theology that said feelings don’t matter, they’re dangerous, and will always steer you wrong.
By 2011, I wasn’t sleeping. I could hear my heartbeat in my head every second of every day. And I panicked whenever anyone called my name, or walked in the front door, or called me on the phone.
In 2012, I was lying in the hallway of my sprawling suburban faux-colonial, begging God to kill me because I was too chicken to do it myself.
In 2014, I started depersonalizing—which is kind of like an out-of-body-experience, only terrifying—and ran like hell to the first therapist I could find. Of course, when you walk into a psychiatrist’s office with a pounding heartbeat, constant anxiety, and disassociation, you get slapped with a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is reassuring, but not very helpful.
So, like any 21st century grad student, I did research. Lots of research. And found a website called Out of the Storm.
There, on the screen, were my symptoms:
•Sudden overwhelming emotional flashbacks, usually set off by specific sights, sounds, or smells (triggers)
•Constantly being on guard and a strong startle reaction (hypervigilance)
•Reduced ability to respond to situations in an emotionally appropriate and flexible manner
•Feelings of worthlessness and defectiveness.
•Avoidance defenses such as disassociation and depersonalization
•Physical manifestations such as cardiopulmonary and digestive problems
I think I said “a-ha” out loud.
I had stumbled upon Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), “a psychological stress injury which results from ongoing or repeated trauma over which the victim has little or no control, and from which there is no real or perceived hope of escape.”
The earth moved. The angels wept. I think I heard a trumpet sound.
Someone with a different personality—someone more assertive and self-confident—might have weathered the same situation with nothing more than mild annoyance. But I was a compliant responsibility-taker by nature. Combined with chronic low self-esteem and some really bad theology, I had allowed myself to be engulfed in the perfect storm.
It’s 2016 now. I still don’t sleep. I have trouble reading. My heart still feels like it’s going to burst through my rib cage every second of every day. And I have to remind myself that I’m allowed to have feelings.
But compared to a year ago, I’m dancing with the stars. Somehow, with God’s help, I got through the worst of it and am beginning to heal. I can turn around and look back and see the hill I’ve climbed.
But the truth is that there is no magic pill that makes it all OK. Some days, it’s a victory to just hang on. Some days, there is just endurance.
Enduring—in the midst of self-loathing and immobilizing panic—is no small feat. And when I was about to lose my grip, I grabbed onto whatever was nearby to keep from going under.
In my case, that was television. I watched police procedurals and imagined what it would be like to yell and sob and bang my hand on the interrogation room table. I watched Buffy The Vampire Slayer and imagined what it would be like to be allowed to make mistakes and be forgiven for them.
This blog is about all the things I did—and still do—to hang on. It’s about bingewatching Supernatural and exposing bad theology. It’s about CPTSD and therapy and the transformative power of pop culture.
It’s about enduring.